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Scroll down for the full experience. Click here for news feature for ItsNiceThat. Marikina Pride Images shot by Regine David. Words by Toqa.

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Toqa on Love

June is pride month.  Much has been said about the corporatization of pride, but this is not about that. This is about what pride means to us. I feel very much that pride is meant to be a joyous celebration of self: unabashed, uncompromising, and accepting of the love one gives and receives. 

Life is messy and complicated, and it is rare that there is a neat, all encompassing conclusion to anything. You can enjoy chocolate one week and be repulsed by it the next. There are no rules. Certainly not as it pertains to chocolate — and especially not when it comes to feelings.

Words have always been very important to me. I loved SAT prep in high school for the mere fact that I was able to devour words, and began to slowly define the world around me. I found that articulation allowed me to see with greater clarity, and I loved to navigate new spaces with more fluency. 

But sometimes, things can escape conventional definition. 

There is not one strict definition of a relationship, nor should there be. Think of how you interact with people with whom you share romantic, platonic, artistic, or familial love: the qualities of love differ from person to person, time to time, and place to place. A relationship does not have to be exclusively romantic or friendly or fit neatly into predetermined parameters. 

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It can be difficult to reconcile this, especially in a place like the Philippines. The population is an overwhelming 87% Roman Catholic, and so conservatism — from an adherence to traditional gender roles, to strictly defined socially permissible behavior — permeates the fabric of everyday interaction. We suffer from a pervasive colonial mentality, and internalize so many problematic falsehoods about what is beautiful, acceptable, or worthy of our attention. Access to literature and discourse about the spectrum of realities is limited.

I am not well versed in queer theory, nor do I pretend to be. Mostly, I understand our relationship and how it makes us feel. 

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You can see love from afar. If it’s real, if it’s strong, it pours out of you, whether you want it to or not. Maybe it is in the way that you move together on the dance floor, as a single entity that turns and pulses to a rhythm that only the two of you share, or how, at the end of a dinner party, underneath the table, you find all of your limbs interlocked in an impossible game of twister — because even if you spend every day together, you find yourself still drawn to the warmth of the other. It isn’t a choice, but a fact. If you are the type of person who creates things, then it manifests in your work. Look at the images we produce, the energy and atmosphere that lives so loudly in each shoot we mount. It is all in there. It is unexpected, improbable, and extraordinarily messy.  

Our relationship changes every day. It moves and shifts and neither of us is able to tell what the dynamic will be when we wake up. Some days it is impossible to work in the studio with one another, and others, unthinkable to be doing anything other than curating a playlist for a candlelit shower. But we like that: we get bored very easily, and, besides — everything changes in time, anyway. To accept that is to understand that love is not a static object. It is fluid, and if you are growing, then your relationship is too: I want to look into something that is constantly evolving, reflective of an individual’s strength and a partnership’s vision. Even when we hurt each other, or allow another person to enter the intimate fabric of our relationship, it means being able to take the volatility in stride, and grow, together, into the newest iteration of us.

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We love to share. So much of our work is performative that it is only natural that people become curious about the inner workings of our relationship. But there are elements we choose to keep private, because not everyone needs to know everything. Sharing is essential, but it is also nice to have something for ourselves. 

And at the end of it all, really, what matters? Only love and human connection: who you loved, and how deeply you loved them. How you create something from that love, something that has the power to move: how it touches those around you in ways that they can neither understand nor articulate, but only feel. 

Love, I think, is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to to one’s own. It is the most essential ingredient for growth, and the most profound experience life has to offer. 

If you love someone enough it can shift the gravity of your entire world. It allows you to see beyond yourself, to comprise an entirely new universe of possibility. If you are lucky enough to be able to translate that connection into something tangible — share that space with others, grow it so others can enter, as well — then all the better. Maybe there is not a strict definition for what a relationship is, but there is always the possibility of expanding a vocabulary of happiness.

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